Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Want to be a Missionary?

There is a story of St. Anthony of Padua that when he heard about some Franciscan missionaries who were martyred in Morocco preaching the Gospel to Muslims, he sought to follow them. He fell ill long before he got there and had to give up his goal of preaching to the Muslims and a desire to be a martyr.

There are many stories like this. I think it was St. Teresa of Avila who sought to run off and be a martyr as well. Anyways, on the way to my apostolate yesterday I passed by the seminary of the White Fathers, a big missionary order to Africa. A short quote about them from Bishop Ahern:

“Manual work and group recreation were part of the daily schedule, and laughter often broke out, especially over the ludicrous attempts of these men from different countries to master the strange languages of Africa. To relieve the tension of their strenuous life, holidays were celebrated by long walks to mission posts, where they could observe the work of the White Fathers in the field. These were arduous treks of twenty miles and more under a broiling sun, from which they returned happy but exhausted. They slept as soundly on a wooden plank of the novitiate as they would have slept in a featherbed. They were young and filled with heroic dreams. To be a White Father was to belong to the shock troops of the Church, and they were glad to have their mettle tested. Esprit de corps and the grace of God kept them going.”

It reminded me of this book I read a year ago that discussed a number of letters between St. Therese and Maurice. Maurice was a seminarian struggling with his vocation who sought to have a Carmelite nun pray for him on a regular basis. I believe it was St. Francis Xavier, the great missionary to Asia, that spoke of the reality that it was the prayers of cloistered religious that gave success to his work. Anyways, Maurice wrote a letter to a convent in Lisieux and soon enough, he had St. Therese praying for him on a regular basis and even writing him letters. Eventually he applied to be a White Father, was accepted, and served in Africa for some time. Here are some words from St. Therese's letters that stir up the soul when it comes to missionary work.

“Let us work together for the salvation of souls. We have only the one day of this life to save them and thus to give Our Lord some proof of our love. The tomorrow of this day will be eternity, when Jesus will reward you with the hundredfold of those sweet and lawful joys which you are giving up for Him.”


“Monsieur l’Abbe, you must find me very strange. Maybe you regret having a sister who seems to want to go to enjoy eternal rest and leave you to labor on alone. But let me assure you, the only thing I desire is God’s will….I don’t know the future, but if Jesus makes my premonition come true, I promise to remain your little sister in heaven. Far from being broken, our union will become a closer one, for then there will be no more cloister and no more grills, and my soul will be free to fly with you to the missions far away. Our roles will still be the same. Yours will be apostolic labor, and mine will be prayer and love.”

Ok that was kind of off subject but I guess what I really wanted to talk about was missionary work and more so the fact that yesterday I ran into this seminarian who is trying to study for the Diocese of Istanbul. At the moment, in Turkey, there is a very oppressive religious atmosphere. Catholics are few. Orthodox are a few more but they are both persecuted. They can rarely have priests enter permanently from outside. The main Orthodox seminary is closed. Things like this. Supposedly the Diocese of Istanbul has one priest, the bishop, for 12 parishes, schools, and a hospital I believe. He was telling me about the priest who was murdered in Turkey as well as the one who was stabbed. He also told me a story I had earlier about 3 Christian missionaries who had their throats slit. I guess he was there this past summer or the one before and a Muslim woman came in during the liturgy, went up to the altar, grabbed a candle, and started chanting Allah Akbar. They were freaked out. They were not sure if there might be people outside ready to come in and attack them. They waited. She left. But the reality is they had no recourse. It's crazy to realize that in this day and age when it is so easy for us to practice our Catholic faith that there are places like these where it is practically impossible to receive the sacraments and practice the faith in safety. Obviously things are worse in Iraq and practically impossible in a place like Saudi Arabia, but Turkey has a certain claim to being a modern country and is attempting to enter the European Union. They do profess secularism in their government. Yet the evidence to be honest seems a bit lacking. I went to Turkey this past summer for a few weeks and witnessed the same thing. The priests there the mentioned the persecution as well as some faithful.

Hearing these words from this seminarian filled my mind with dreams of being a missionary and preaching to people who craved the Gospel. That's where St. Therese came in. :) I think there is something amazingly thrilling about stepping out into deep waters and risking your life to bring people home. It's hard to imagine going back to home to the states while there are so many places that also need priests and religious. Nevertheless, I don't think my vocation is missionary work, at least at the moment. But maybe yours is...



Kevin said...

Sometimes I wonder if certain parts of the United States will have to be classified as mission territory :p

Colin said...

Ahh, this is true. :)